Julian Bond, civil rights pioneer, doesn’t see the United States as a society healed from its past, but as a nation that has practiced racism against African-Americans for three centuries.
“The greatest impediment to achieving racial equality is the narcotic belief that we already have,” he said.
Bond transported the University of Texas audience on Feb. 4 back to the struggles and successes of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As the keynote speaker at the 2015 Barbara Jordan Forum, he stressed that the United States is far from becoming a post-racial society.
“Barack Obama’s election and re-election was testament to one man’s singular abilities,” he said, “and not to racial nirvana across the land.
Shirley Franklin, Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor of Ethics and Political Values, said this forum seeks to highlight Jordan’s legacy and her commitment to civil rights and advocacy.
“Julian Bond is one of the thinkers, leaders and activists who has been engaged for 50 years in the civil rights activism and human rights movement for his entire life,” Franklin, former mayor of Atlanta, said. “He has learned lessons and has stories that can illuminate the people.”
After receiving a standing ovation from the audience, Bond compared the 1960s to the present day, referring to Emmett Till, who was murdered in the 1950s, Treyvon Martin, who died in an altercation in 2012, and Michael Brown, who was killed last year by a Ferguson police officer. All three cases sparked racial outrage.
“We know that race more than any other factor determines who is shot in the street by police, who is arrested, who is charged with what crime, who received what length of punishment, and who receives the maximum sentence,” Bond said.
Bond said chances of imprisonment for the African-American population are 75 percent higher, lack of health insurance is 33 percent more likely and proportion of college degrees is 53 percent lower than the general population.
“The truth is that Jim Crow may be dead, but racism is alive and well. That’s the central fact of life for every non-white American, including the president of the United States,” he said.
Momentary clapping and praise from the audience interrupted his speech when he challenged views arguing that racism is history.
“We are now asked to believe that 200 years of being somebody else’s property, followed by 100 years of legal oppression in the South and discrimination in the North, we’re asked to believe this can be wiped away by five decades of half-hearted mediation and one black president,” he said.
But Franklin was more positive about the racial situation during a phone interview.
“It doesn’t mean that all problems have disappeared, but we certainly have a more integrated police force, with leadership of women and people of color,” she said. “This was not so common 40 years ago.”
Franklin argued, however, that Americans’ ability to implement policies at the local level is still a work in progress.
“America has proven to be strong economically and internationally; there is no reason why nobody should be behind the poverty line, or without access to education. It is time for us to emphasize the solutions and not dwell on the problems,” she said.
Bond stressed how voting is vital to continue the fight for the elimination of restrictions based on race. “We must realize our full political potential, making sure every citizen registers and votes. Anyone who does not is failing the rest of us; he or she is a failure to us all,” he said.
Bond gave direction on education, economic empowerment and political action as former chairman of the NAACP, said Jonathan Edwards, state officer of the Texas NAACP Youth and College Division.
Edwards said voting is stressed in the NAACP, and the new voter ID laws imposed in Texas after the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 have been described by some in the association as “thinly veiled racism.
“Mr. Bond represents equality for all, not only politically but more so economically and socially beyond the voter ID,” Edwards said. “He is one of those forefathers that are still around, reminding us how far our country has come and how important it is not only to stand on that progress but also build on that progress.
Bond also stressed what should be done next, and how the younger crowd needs a growing activist movement as the next step to achieving a post-racial society.
“Our task is to continue to litigate, to organize, to mobilize, to form coalitions of the caring and concerned, joining ranks against the comfortable, the countless and the cold-hearted,” he said. “Today’s times require no less, and, in fact, insist on more.”